Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

It seems the magazine 'What Doctors Don't Tell You' doesn't like me

I was surprised to discover this afternoon that I've now made it into yet another* Facebook rant from the people behind What Doctors Don't Tell You (there have been many rants though this is my first inclusion). They've been escalating their rants about skeptic activists (while unironically noting how few of us there are) ever since Tesco decided to stop stocking their magazine. The reason Tesco gave was that the magazine wasn't selling^ - I've no idea if this is true or if Tesco really did listen to the complaints against the magazine's content (or possibly they just read it and drew the relevant conclusions themselves).

*https://www.facebook.com/WDDTY/posts/770960436257904
^https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152543438997767&set=p.10152543438997767&type=1&theater - this link might take you to a picture shared on WDDTY's public page, it's a screenshot of an email from Tesco saying that they'd removed it in response to feedback.

Anyway, What Doctors Don't Tell You is now blaming skeptics for the withdrawal of the magazine and is now reduced to publicising personal and work information about us. To me this is very telling. Each of us has blogs where we've criticised the magazine's content or the framing of its content. If they think we're wrong it would be better to point out where we've missed something. The fact that the chosen tactic relies on personal attacks speaks volumes.

Remember that a number of the advertisers in the magazine have been found to be in breach of the advertising standards guidelines and in one particularly amusing case, someone whose research was written about in the magazine pointed out that the author had got it wrong.

Here's what WDDTY would like you to know about me... or at least someone whose name rhymes with mine (I have spelled it as Jo Brodie for... ooh, forever).


The bits that are accurate are fine. The bits that are inaccurate are quite wrong (surprise!) and it ropes in another Jo Brodie who might be a bit miffed to find herself (himself? Jo can be a man's name too) connected with this, so my post here is published to clarify my own 'involvement' in the list of skeptical activists. At the end of this post I'm including links to any other relevant blog posts that clarify the misinformation in the WDDTY Facebook post.

My work / volunteering
I do indeed work two days a week (2.5) for the CHI+MED project, yes. It's funded by the EPSRC (one of seven research councils) which are funded by the taxpayer. We are not paid by the pharmaceutical industry or, for that matter, the medical devices industry. We do work with medical device companies - we're trying to reduce the harm that can happen when complicated devices are used under stressful conditions.

My job is partly to update the website and expand the project's online presence - fair enough. I also give talks about our research, in particular the work we've done on public (& stakeholder) engagement and science communication.

For the rest of the week I do not work at Diabetes UK and haven't done since June 2012. Diabetes UK made the entire Science Information Team redundant then (5 people affected) but I'm on friendly terms with them, they do good stuff and I learned a lot while there.

I have never worked for Prof Wharton and until today had never heard of him. If you google his name and add mine you'll find that he does have a secretary with my name (spelled -ie not -y) but it isn't me. There are a surprising number of people called Jo Brodie who aren't me in fact. Prof Wharton's based in Sheffield, I'm in London. I'm sure I'd do quite a good job if I did work for him though as I have a Masters degree in Neuroscience and he seems to work in that sort of area.

For the rest of the week I actually work (1.5 days) on the Teaching London Computing project - supporting computing teachers who'll be delivering the new subject / curriculum. I also volunteer one day a week (1d) at JDRF (the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) so that I can put my diabetes statistics knowledge to good use.

"I'm not medically trained"
The reason I freely admit that I'm not medically trained is because it's true and some of the things I post here touch on health and medical topics. I think it's important to state this so that people aren't misled - I am not qualified to give advice, in much the same way that this magazine isn't qualified to give medical advice. To be honest even if I was medically qualified I'd still not be acting appropriately in giving advice because I don't have access to your medical records and might give advice that isn't relevant to you.

This concept was made very clear to me while working at Diabetes UK. We took calls from the public, explained that we were science information officers and then hopefully did a competent job of explaining complex topics simply. Quite a few people referred to us as 'doctor' (of course we corrected them) and many callers maintained the belief that we were medically trained, some were surprisingly quite deferential. That bothered me because we were trying to signpost them to information, not give them medical advice, and we certainly didn't want to misrepresent ourselves. I hope to make it clear from the outset (in the blog bio bit at the top) that I'm not medically qualified and I also re-mention it in relevant posts too.

Qualifications and competence
The post mentions several other people, largely to try and imply that we're a bunch of un-medically-qualified folk who are not fit to assess the content in the magazine. By contrast, their own advisors include:
"seven medical doctors on its editorial panel, plus several PhDs and highly qualified practitioners of a number of alternative disciplines. Thousands of doctors and health practitioners of every persuasion regularly read WDDTY and comment enthusiastically. The two editors of our magazine have been medical science writers for 25 years, and every word in our pages is checked by a science editor with a an extensive history of writing and editing medical studies for the pharmaceutical industry."
You might be interested in the background of these doctors...

I'm amused by the bit pointing out that a fact checker worked for the pharmaceutical industry - the magazine often criticises Pharma for distorting evidence so I'm not sure what to make of that. Also if the magazine is called What Doctors Don't Tell You it seems odd to tout the fact that you're taking editorial advice from them.

While I am not a medical science writer I've done a fair bit of it (only 8 years, so I can see immediately how my qualifications fall dramatically short of theirs) and am not too bad at critical appraisal. Really, anyone who's been trained as a scientist is reasonably competent to critically appraise scientific or medical information - and we can all improve with practice.

WDDTY's message is that we're not qualified to comment on their magazine. While I maintain that anyone who can make sense of evidence is qualified to do this, it's not at all clear who WDDTY would accept as suitable:
  • Not the eight of us because we're not medically trained
  • Not doctors because they are medically trained...
  • ... except some doctors who agree with them.
In addition to my sciencey qualifications I actually think that my most relevant-to-WDDTY one is that most of the complaints I put in to the ASA result in upheld adjudications or are informally resolved. I can think of only two that were rejected outright - one because the ASA disagreed with me and thought the advert wasn't misleading, the other one (recently) was because the complaint didn't actually fall within their remit.

Others have shared the Facebook status, taking WDDTY's message that we're not qualified to comment -


Personally I think the first line should read "This important magazine is being written by people who have no credentials whatsoever to give opinions on medical issues..."  my criticism is not about anyone's qualifications but based on the evidence of the magazine's published output. 

I'm a little bit miffed about the last line of course because my qualifications and experience are all about the health and medical field, just not as a doctor.

They end with:
"...write to Tesco today and ask them to re-stock What Doctors Don’t Tell You. And tell them a bit more about the people who fire off ‘complaints’ – that they are neither true customers nor people with either the training or experience to evaluate the information in our pages: customer.service@tesco.co.uk"

Unfortunately for WDDTY I (and the others mentioned) have both the training and experience to evaluate the information in their pages, and that's why they're a bit mean about us.

Others' take on being included in the list (will add as more are written)
Skepticat aka Maria
http://forum.thinkhumanism.com/viewtopic.php?f=76&t=6604

Guy Chapman's blahg
WDDTY goes "the full Errol"

WWDDTYDTY (What What Doctors Don't Tell You Don't Tell You)
Meet the people who would dictate your health care




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Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).